Come in, little sister, so healthful and fair,
Come take in our father’s best parlor a share,
You’ve been kept long enough at the nurse’s, I trow.
Where the angry lakes roar and the northern winds blow;
Come in, we’ve a pretty large household, ’tis true,
But the twenty-five children can make room for you.
A present, I see, for our sire you have brought,
His dessert to embellish, how kind was the thought;
A treat of ripe berries, both crimson and blue,
And wild flowers to stick in his button-hole too,
The rose from your prairie, the nuts from your tree,
What a good little sister—come hither to me.
You’ve a dowry besides very cunningly stor’d,
To fill a nice cupboard, or spread a broad board,
Detroit, Ypsilanti—Ann Arbour and more—
For the youngest, methinks, quite a plentiful store,
You’re a prog, I perceive—it is true to the letter,
And your sharp Yankee sisters will like you the better.
But where are your Indians—so feeble and few?
So fall’n from the heights where their forefathers grew!
From the forests they fade, o’er the waters that bore
The names of their baptism, they venture no more—
O soothe their sad hearts ere they vanish afar,
Nor quench the faint beams of their westering star.
Those ladies who sit on the sofa so high,
Are the stateliest dames of our family,
Your thirteen old sisters, don’t treat them with scorn,
They were notable spinsters before you were born,
Many stories they know, most instructive to hear,
Go, make them a curtsy, ’twill please them, my dear.
They can teach you the names of those great ones to spell,
Who stood at the helm, when the war tempest fell,
They will show you the writing that gleam’d to the sky
In the year seventy-six, on the fourth of July;
When the flash of the Bunker-Hill flame was red,
And the blood gush’d forth from the breast of the dead.
There are some who may call them both proud and old,
And say they usurp what they cannot hold;
Perhaps, their bright locks have a sprinkle of gray,
But then, little Michy, don’t hint it, I pray;
For they’ll give you a frown, or a box on the ear,
Or send you to stand in the corner, I fear.
They, indeed, bore the burden and heat of the day,
But you’ve as good right to your penny as they;
Though the price of our freedom, they better have known,
Since they paid for it, out of their purses alone,
Yet a portion belongs to the youngest, I ween,
So, hold up your head with the “Old Thirteen.”
Although Lydia Huntley Sigourney’s “On the Admission of Michigan into the Union” is found in several published editions of the poet’s works, it is unclear where or when this poem was originally published. The University of Michigan’s “American Verse Project,” which provides an online database of nineteenth century poetry, cites an 1856 publication titled Selected Poems by L.H. Sigourney as the earliest print source of this poem.
The content of the poem, however, suggests that the poem was written earlier. The poem is centered on Michigan earning its statehood, and so the 1830s seems a more likely period. More specifically, Sigourney references twenty-five states in the Union. Arkansas entered the Union as the twenty-fifth state in 1836, with Michigan entering the following year.
That Sigourney, a poet from Connecticut, would write a poem on Michigan’s admission to the Union is not as surprising when one takes into account the context in which this issue likely took hold in national interests. Michigan first petitioned for statehood in 1833, only to have Congress table their petition and begin a process that would last nearly four years. The petition was initially turned down because of two central issues. The first was over a territorial dispute with the state of Ohio, known as the Toledo War. This dispute would eventually be settled when Michigan dropped its claims to the mouth of the Maumee River. The other issue, however, spoke to a much larger debate that was growing in the United States: slavery and the question of its expansion into new territory. The Missouri Compromise, which was agreed to when Missouri and Maine applied for statehood, essentially established the precedence that there would be a balance maintained between the number of states that permitted slavery and the number of those that prohibited it. To have Michigan enter the Union would upset this balance. The issue was finally solved in 1836 when Arkansas entered the Union as a slave state, allowing Michigan to enter as a free state on January 26, 1837.
Sigourney wades into the issue of Michigan’s proposed statehood in the first stanza of her poem with extended metaphor comparing the United States to a family—a family that Michigan, as the “little sister,” desired to join. In the second and third stanzas the speaker of the poem comments on the various resources that Michigan possesses, describing both elements of its physical landscape (from “the rose from your prairie” to “the nuts from your tree”) and its prominent cities (“Detroit, Ypsilanti—Ann Arbor and more—”). These attributes of Michigan are proposed by the speaker as a potential “present” or “dowry” that it could offer, further cementing the comparison of Michigan’s situation to joining a larger family. At the end of the third stanza, the poem appears to enter the free/slave state debate, referencing Michigan’s proposed status as a free state: “You’re a prog, I perceive—it is true to the letter, / And your sharp Yankee sisters will like you the better.” In the fourth stanza, the speaker also comments on the status of Native Americans in Michigan—a comment that appears to express concern: “But where are your Indians—so feeble and few? / So fall’n from the heights where their forefathers grew!”
The poem then takes a turn in the final four stanzas with a focus on the path that Michigan might take to earn its statehood. Continuing the family metaphor, the speaker acknowledges the thirteen original colonies as “your thirteen old sisters” and appeals to Michigan to treat these states, in particular, with due respect, imploring her to “Go, make them a curtsy.” The respect, it would seem from the language of the poem, is owed, in part, to the power that these states possess. To this end, the speaker cautions of their ability to “give [Michigan] a frown, or a box on the ear, / Or send you to stand in the corner, I fear.” Yet the poem also implies to the speaker that the respect owed to these states was earned by their roles in the founding of the nation. These direct allusions to events in the American Revolution, including the Battle at Bunker Hill, acknowledge that these original states “bore the burden and heat of the day.” The poem ultimately ends, however, on a note that expresses support for Michigan’s appeal to enter the Union, explaining that Michigan has “as good right to your penny as they” and is encouraged to “hold up your head with the ‘Old Thirteen.’”
The themes of this poem include Native Americans and slavery. And these topics of discussion were included in the broader context of Michigan’s appeal for statehood. Slavery was clearly a relevant point as the battle over slave and free states grew, and the treatment of Native Americans was also on the minds of citizens as Andrew Jackson, president at the time of Michigan’s appeal for statehood, carried out his infamous Trail of Tears.
Bibliography and Further Readings Bob Garrett, The Rough and Rocky Road to Statehood, Seeking Michigan BLog (2011); Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Poetry Foundation; Michigan Becomes a State, America’s Story from America’s Library; Selected Poems: L.H. Sigourney, American Verse Project, University of Michigan.
Credits Composed by Nicholas Yialiades, Fall 2018. Reading by Nicholas Yialiades.